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Archive for April, 2010

FROM MATT TO PAM:  APRIL 29,2010

“Hi dear.  I looked at the blog this evening after teaching all day to see if there was something new.  I remembered you’re working only after I got to blog.  Any way, we’ve left the poor readers hanging in Leakey some 10 or so days ago and need to get them home to Oregon.  I don’t think a big post is necessary, just something about how we left Leakey on a Sunday and arrived at the Caprock that night in shitty weather that stayed that way while we scouted the rail and trial and finally had to give up and flee south to avoid approaching thunderstorms only to end up in Bottomless Lakes, N.M. and then City of Rocks, N.M before dashing home behind the last Pacific storm and in front of the next one in two 15 hour sprints broken by a few hours of restless sleep at a noisy truck stop just north of Bakersfield (Don’t forget the ill advised run from Parker to 29 Palms.) You can carry the story with picture instead of text.  See you tomorrow afternoon.  Love.”

How crazy is this?  My husband is now communicating to me in email.  That’s how our lives have been since our return, and why I have not added to blog recently.  I do have pictures but little to comment on about our return home.  We remain excited about our return to TX in 4 weeks for the Bird Olympics 2010, but life, as usual, is diverting our attentions to work, yard, garden, etc.-you know the drill.  Here are pictures of stunning areas of Texas and New Mexico with lots of potential for little adventures under warmer and sunnier skies-hopefully next trip….

Texas is so vast, and the terrain varies tremendously east to west and north to south.  Hill country is beautiful rolling cedar and live oak hillsides rolling on forever to the horizon.   The river valleys are deep and wide with dramatic vistas.   Huge fenced exotic hunting ranches line the roads on both sides for miles and miles.  Glimpses of African deer can be seen at times-very bizarre.  Bluebonnets were blooming along the roadsides. 

hill country-it doesn't do it justice

roadside bluebonnets

bluebonnets-state flower

The plains are just flat, flat, flat-what more can be said. 

central plains

Still patches of beauty can be found.

hedgehog cactus flower

Texas panhandle

The panhandle is deceptive.  It looks scrubby and slightly rolling but hides beautiful canyons and washes.  They look grand for hiking if only we had had decent weather.  I suspect that’s a real problem there-either too hot or too cold; too stormy or too windy-with few days just right for exploring.  And the red clay/mud was unbelievable after the rain!  All the county roads except main highways are dirt surfaced and were unusable except for the biggest and bravest of the 4-wheelers! 

Caprock state park, TX

Matt at Caprock

We found a stunning state campground at Caprock near Quitaque (see pic for correct pronunciation).  I was dying to hike the canyons but between the cold and the storms and the wet mud, conditions were against a positive experience.  We had the tent campground completely to ourselves which was sooo peaceful. 

canyon hiking-see the mud and water!

entering quitaque

Quitaque is located on a 64 mile rail to trail that we hope to ride during our return next month.  We’ll break it up into three segments 20-22 miles each and take 3 days.  Can’t believe the weather has been so sucky!

rail to trail near Caprock. Tempting?

These small towns, like Quitaque, are delightful to drive through, with the occasional treasure to discover.

The Quitaque Hotel

Do you know what this is?

mackenzie lake reservoir, TX

We made a brief scout of Lake Mackenzie Reservoir for kayaking potential, enough to know it’s not for us.  It’s a relatively small but deep reservoir (when full).  The campgrounds were sad-looking with poor maintenance of bathrooms and showers.  Although the sites on the bluffs overlooking the lake had beautiful views, there was no privacy, except the spacing between was pretty generous.  Worst of all (from our perspective), waterskiing and skidoos are big attractions on the lake, AND ATVs are clearly tearing up the background.   Not what we’re looking for at all!  Time to get out of here.

Bottomless Lakes SP, New Mex

As we travelled into New Mexico, we stopped for one night at a very appealing state park near Roswell:  Bottomless Lakes.  This is a place worth returning to.  No we didn’t see any aliens or even suspicious lights in the sky. 

another bottomless lake

The lakes are a series of sinkholes, large enough to fish and swim in.  Each sinkhole has its own little style, and a few primitive campsites along the edges allow you to have a private little lake of your own. 

campsite with personal canyon wash

Between and beyond the sinkholes are dry wash canyons begging to be explored.  There is a short (1.25mi) flat biking/hiking trail to a larger lake that has RV hookups, protected swimming for kids and a main pavilion for picnics-probably has a concession during the summer.  Lake is too small to be of much kayaking interest altho it could work for wet entry practice and rollovers (!). 

Matt above canyon wash

We did hike a small canyon the next morning, and it was divine. 

I hope to see more of this country.  It’s awesome!

Matt on canyon bottom

my turn down

We drove somewhat leisurely south and west, stopping briefly at parks in Artesia and Las Cruces; Matt to check emails and me to practice photography.

Nice, huh? Too bad he was captive.

They paint murals under their bridges in Las Cruces!

City of Rocks SP, New Mexico

City of Rocks campsite

Next night we pulled into City of Rocks SP, New Mexico.  Picture islands of boulders popping out of a sea of flat desert surrounded by distant mountain ranges on the horizon.  Hard to believe such places exist.  Campsites are nestled in, under and around the boulder patches.  There are a couple short (1-2mi) bike trails (suitable for trail bikes only) around and between the boulder piles.  We were only able to try one of them before dark-I nearly crashed in an arroyo sand bank!  The night brought strong winds, but a bright half-moon allowed a midnight walk among the boulders near our camp.  It was both eery and beautiful to scramble (cautiously) around the rocks, gazing at the distant lights on the horizon at the base of the mountain range to the west and lightning strikes from the storm clouds to the north-life doesn’t get any better than this.  Even though we were sheltered in our campsite, the wind buffeted The Slipper half the night before easing in the early morning.

Hwy 70 near Virden, NM

Sheep Hole Valley, CA, hwy 62

Now we’re headed home for real.  There is so much beautiful country between NM and OR, but we are out of time.  Couple places I want to look into on another trip are  the Gila River area near Virden, NM and Sheep Hole Valley Wilderness Area east of 29 Palms, CA.  So many places; so little time.  We’ll be on the road again the last full week of May headed for Leakey, TX for the 2010 Bird Olympics.  We’re hoping we ‘ll get to do our first ever multiday rail to trail at Caprock after the Olympics!

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Boatbuilding in Texas, April 14, 2010

starting the first lay-up

cut and fold lines scored

We started our cardboard boat at 1015 this morning and stopped at 1800. The idea was to figure out what it would actually take to build a boat that would float two people out of five sheets of cardboard.  It took the 4 of us 8 hours to construct this boat and that does not include painting and decorating.  Since paint is the primary protection against water (cardboard and water do mix, which is not in this application a good thing) and we only have one day for building before the race, we quickly realized we need to modify our plans in order to have a waterproof boat ready for the race.  Good thing we built a practice boat!

cut and fold sides

painting contact cement on surfaces

pressure seal contact cement with mallet and board

caulk every seam!

taping seams

gluing in bulkheads

ready for paint and decorations!

We’re now thinking that all teams will be provided with plans for 2 different boats: one similar to our practice boat and one a catamaran that we didn’t have time to build (but think will work).   In the contest, teams will be welcome to build anything they want, but if they haven’t already developed scaled plans of their own, they may not have enough time to complete their design. 

We learned a lot during our practice construction.  Instead of heading up teams, Matt and Jim will be non-competitors available to all teams for support and advice.  The Friday night before the event they will give a hands-on tutorial complete with a card board boat building simulation using paper cut-outs.   All this in anticipation of the real build Saturday morning and the “race” on Sunday.

April 15, 2010

It has been raining since early a.m. and the humidity is so high, we’re afraid to paint.  In fact, we’re not sure if Patti will make it back from work this evening.  If the river rises, their road floods out over 2 low water crossings.  We’re keeping watch, as if that would make a difference.  So far 1.25” of rainfall.  Jim says it’ll take 3-4” to flood the river-unless it’s raining even harder upstream from here.  What a country!  At least (so far) we haven’t had hail like we did the first time we drove Ruby down here 2 years ago.  Hailstones dented her brand new roof and hood!

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April 13, 2010

But here we are at last and after a solid evening meal, we begin planning the Bird Olympics agenda.  Teams are selected: 5 teams of 5 people each (one team has 6).  Today we (Patti, Jim, Matt and I) built model paper boats to test the feasibility of our main event.  Only took us 4 hours to build the paper boats!  That seemed like enough labor that day so actual cardboard boat building will commence tomorrow.  Make note of the aggressive stance of the guy in my boat.

prototype paper boats

 

Patti and I previewed the river in her paddleboat, laying out the projected course.  We took time afterward to identify the WATERSNAKE hiding under the paddleboat as harmless.  Matt, Patti and I walked down and examined the damsite where repairs look very doable and should raise the river level nicely. 

Frio R at Patti's

downstream Frio R

upstream Frio R

scouting Frio R race course

It’s raining softly today in Leakey, off and on, and the temperature is in the 60s so working in the river is not that interesting.  Not to worry as Jim and Patti’s place is like a camp-always another activity waiting.  Like working on Patti’s 1932 Ford Model B pickup truck she restored.  That truck was the vehicle each of us siblings was allowed to use for transportation during our senior high school year.  It was a great boy attractor.   Right now she has battery issues and we can’t run it but maybe later we can get it out at least for pictures.

Tomorrow- actual construction of a full size cardboard boat….

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April 10, 2010 Texas Excursion

dramatic scenery I-40 New Mexico

This is not a true pedal-paddle adventure because we have not included the Baby Bootie, and our primary goals this trip involve planning and staging for the upcoming Bird Olympics to be held at my sister’s home in the Hill Country over Memorial Weekend.  Bird Olympics is our style of family/friends reunion where we get together and compete (very friendly and casually) in various, usually unpracticed events.  Past Bird Olympics have included sand castle contest in Cannon Beach OR (we won), white water canoe trip in AR, building and racing model boats, water balloon wars, cannonball contest, potato cannon accuracy, horseshoes, rubber duck floats-well, you get the idea.  Of course, all of this is interspersed with eating, drinking, talking, laughing and general good spirits.  Thankfully, my family likes each other! 

Anyway, this year is the first Bird Olympics since 2002 so we’re hoping to make it a memorable one indeed!  Plus we have new family members to welcome: twin babies from Jeremiah (my nephew) and Linda; and Kiki, now wedded to Kat (my niece). 

The seminal event this Olympics is cardboard boat building and racing down the Frio River (my sister’s home sits on a high bank on the river-very nice).  Since none of us have ever done this, we thought perhaps we should have a preliminary trial to assure some quantum of success come Memorial weekend.  I figure if Patti and Jim, Matt and I can construct a successful boat, we can then assure that each team will have one member with some experience, thus leveling the playing field a bit.  The cardboard was ordered on line and delivered, and we are on our way with tape and caulk on board. 

We also have 2 wood forms for constructing concrete posts to mark the boundary of the Bird Sanctuary designated on  Jim and Patti’s property as a family ashes cemetery/repository.   No need to expand on this theme further, but we are thinking of making the building and personalization of these forms as part of the Bird Olympics 2010 experience.  The Bird Sanctuary already has a swift tower constructed, but it has not yet been discovered by the desired Chimney Swifts (hope springs eternal…).  It’s a “no duh” that we have a preponderance of bird themes.

Anyway back to the trip.  It begins like most of our limited time excursions: we hit the road at 10am, after dropping the cats off at Cats Only “luxury lodging” in West Salem.  This is our first time to leave our cats away from home but the accommodations look amazing, and the woman owner/manager is delightful; and I don’t intend to worry about them while we’re gone as I usually do.

We left Salem 10am, headed south.  I personally don’t consider myself on vacation until I have passed the Oregon-California border (unless we stop to see friends in Ashland-that’s always a vacation).  I have personal favorites of the trips south that are “can’t miss” visual experiences:  I-5 just past Sexton Summit when the first view of the Rogue Valley appears;  Then, the landscape from the Siskiyous to Mt Shasta, CA  is a fabulous variety of classic western mountain to the Klamath River valley (gold country!) to rolling pasture and meadows to towering volcanic mountain terrain.  After Mt. Shasta, I-5 winds through Dunsmuir and on, snaking downward through narrowed horizons of pine covered mountainsides; curving left, then right, then left; on and on for miles until culminating in tantalizing glimpses of Lake Shasta and the flooded fingers of three rivers feeding the reservoir, begging for water-based explorations.   After the reservoir, the landscape changes again to parkland meadows punctuated by oak groves preceding and surrounding Redding and on to Red Bluff.  The majestic Sacramento River has its beginnings in this country and peek-a-boo visions of its tortuous youth wend under and adjacent to  I-5 intermittently all the way to Sacramento where it is a dominant force of the landscape.  After Sacramento,  I marvel at the very distant mountain ridges on the horizon, first on the east side, then on the west side that parallel our route, with the opposite view flat to the horizon.  The land initially is pasture in appearance but groves of citrus and then orchards of olives appear as we move ever southward.  California has, indeed, transformed and subjugated its land into service for the maximum benefit of mankind.  I become mesmerized by the mechanized fields, particularly the linear plantings that become evanescent fans sequentially and repetitively capturing my vision from my seat in the Ruby Slipper, until I feel I might become hypnotized.  I choose to move to the back seat to nap.

sandstone bluffs whiz by I-40 in New Mexico

Unfortunately or not, as it turns out, we became aware through NOAA that high winds were expected along our route across southern CA to Arizona.   Matt had been driving, as usual, as he hates to be in a passive position (with rare exceptions) until we get almost to Barstow.  He concedes that he is tiring but we should consider pushing through to Needles, CA.  I volunteered to drive (it was 1am on 4/11, and we’re just west of Barstow, CA).   Much to my surprise, Matt takes me up on my offer.  So I drink a 16oz cup of coffee in order to stay awake.  1.5 hours later, Matt says we can stop for the night as we have covered most of the Mojave desert and should be out of range of the windstorms predicted.  I, of course, look at him as if he is out of his mind.  Those of you who know me, know that I drink at most a single cup of green tea in the mornings as my only caffeine intake.  I am now as buzzed as if I have taken speed and I am not psychologically able to shut down.  Also, I have an IPOD full of music my 27 year old son has downloaded, and I am “in the groove”.  I told Matt (not too gently) to lay down and go to sleep, and I cruise through the rest of CA and into Arizona, listening to a combo of “golden oldies” and more progressive and new driving music.  I didn’t wake him until I became concerned that the road had been turning north for some time and I knew we were supposed to be heading east.  By then dawn had arrived, and a sliver of the waning moon was hovering over the east horizon with Jupitor visible inferiorly.  It was moving and beautiful and, to me , quite calming.  Matt had a slightly differently affect.  We stopped for breakfast and regrouped, and all was well.    Matt regained the helm, and I slept in the back for a couple hours.

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Ruby Bootie Successfully Hauls Two Kayaks

Smart Car with kayaks

We bought our Smart Car to tow behind the Ruby Slipper because we wanted an easy to tow vehicle to shuttle bikes and kayaks on pedal/paddle adventures.   The idea was to leave the Slipper at a bike trail head or kayak put-in near where we planned to spend the night, and then leave the Bootie at the other end of the pedal or paddle as a shuttle vehicle to get us and our gear back to the Slipper.  This would give us the ability to do one way rides and paddles- and that means all down-hill or down-stream (which is good . . . . or even great depending on the pitch of the trail or fall of the stream).

 Anyway, we liked the Bootie for this job because it is really light and compact and therefore easy to tow and park in camp grounds (It’s only five feet long) and doesn’t use much gasoline (and it is cute).  The problem was that everyone from Smart Car to Yakima Racks said you can’t haul two sea kayaks on a SmartCar.  The car will take car racks like any car, but on the Smart the bars are only eighteen inches apart.  That is just not enough spread to carry kayaks. 

We understood the problem (after hours of Google searches with strings like “Smart Car Kayak Racks”) but we didn’t believe we couldn’t carry two sea kayaks on a SmartCar.  The reason we didn’t wasn’t completely hubris- but that is a factor, of course.  Beginning in 2009, Smart started offering a dealer installed tow package for the Smart Car.  We  (actually, this kind of stuff  falls into that small category of things that Pam defers to me about) figured that between the tow hitch and the two tow-eye attachment points on the back of the car, we could somehow fabricate a kayak rack for the back of the Bootie that would give us enough spread for kayaks.  As it turns out, we were right!

Test run of Bootie loaded

Not to get too technical here (unless someone is actually interested) the big problem was that Smart Car tow packages use an inch and a quarter tow bar hitch instead of the more common two-inch hitch.  That’s a problem because the very few hitch mounted kayak racks (like the Yakima Dry Dock) available all use two inch tongues that fit into two inch hitches.  Rack makers universally warn against trying to use a hitch adaptor to plug a two inch rack into an inch and quarter hitch.   So, we figured we’d have to have someone purpose-build an inch and a quarter tongue kayak rack to plug into the tow hitch we had installed on the Smart Car when we bought it.

While hunting around for a metal fabricator willing to build a one-off rack for less than the cost of the car, inspiration struck (something about mothers and necessity here).  The Hollywood bike rack we’d used on the Slipper since before we even thought about pedal/paddle was designed to fit either two inch hitches (like on the Slipper ) or inch and quarter hitches (like on the Smart Car).  Hollywood does this by making their bike rack tongue an inch and a quarter and using an adaptor if the rack is used with a two inch hitch.  That  is the opposite of  the forbidden adapting two-inch to inch and a quarter  adaptors shunned by Yakima.  Better yet (in fact, critically so) the Hollywood tongue assembly is a separate machined piece onto which Hollywood bolts their two inch bike rack assembly.

Yakima rack bolted to Hollywood tongue

I know, I know, opaque techno geek stuff here.  But the point is that it dawned on me that one could order a Yakima two inch Dry Dock hitch- mounted kayak rack and an inch and a quarter Hollywood tongue assembly (on the Internet of course), cut the two inch tongue off the Yakima rack, drill in the proper mounting holes and bolt the Yakima kayak rack  onto the inch and a quarter Hollywood tongue.  The result is a stable strong rear kayak rack that results in an almost fifty inch spread from the standard roof mounted Yakima bars that fit on a Smart Car roof.  And that means plenty of spread to put two small sea kayaks on top of the Smart Car.

Plenty of spread

Maybe it would be a good idea to look at the pictures again at this point.  They will no doubt (ok, some doubt) make more sense than the painful prose you’ve waded through to get this far.  Anyway, the Bootie is now bike and kayak ready.  The Slipper is bike and kayak ready.  The Slipper can tow the Bootie anywhere.  The only thing we can’t do at this is point is tow the Slipper behind the Bootie (we’re working on that).  Now, all we need is a little time and some good weather to put an “all-up” (Slipper with two sea kayaks on top towing Bootie with two mountain bike on the back) pedal/paddle trip on the road.  But first we’re on two Slipper-only, back to back head-down (long way to go, short time to get there) runs to Texas.  Stay tuned.

All up

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